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Marvin Lewis on Andy Dalton: “Wherever he ends up, he’ll be an asset”

Mike Florio and Big Cat break down where Andy Dalton sits after getting cut by the Bengals and where he might end up, either as a backup or starter.

In each of the first five years of Andy Dalton’s career, the Bengals made the playoffs. His coach for those five seasons, and three after that, was Marvin Lewis.

Lewis spoke to PFT by phone on Friday regarding Dalton, who was cut by the Bengals on Thursday.

“Wherever he ends up,” Lewis said of Dalton, “he’ll be an asset.”

Lewis reflected on Dalton, taken 35th overall in 2011, showing up for training camp without the benefit of an offseason program (thanks to the lockout) and quickly getting up to speed with the offense. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, the first overall pick in 2011, did the same thing; the difference, however, is that Cincinnati and not Carolina qualified for the postseason that year.

“Jay [Gruden] did a tremendous job of building the offense through Andy,” Lewis said of his former offensive coordinator in Cincinnati, who would go on to become the head coach in Washington and who now is offensive coordinator in Jacksonville. “And Andy did a great job of taking care of the football and not getting ahead of himself.”

Lewis also praised Dalton’s ability and willingness to be ready for every game.

“He’s extremely smart,” Lewis said, “prepared, ready to go. By lunchtime on Tuesday, he had the opponent down pat. He’ll be a good aide for a young guy and if something happens, he’ll be ready to go.”

This assumes that Dalton won’t get an opportunity to start. The one place where he’d have the best chance to do that is in New England, where unproven 2019 fourth-rounder Jarrett Stidham leads the depth chart.

It’s easy to forget the things Dalton did early in his career, given the way things ended with the Bengals. After an 0-8 start in 2019, new coach Zac Taylor benched Dalton for rookie Ryan Finley. After three games, Taylor had to turn back to Dalton because it was clear that Finley couldn’t get it done. Dalton then led the Bengals to a 2-3 record down the stretch, but it wasn’t enough to keep the Bengals out of the top spot in the draft, and the team’s ability to select Ohio native Joe Burrow sealed Dalton’s fate.

Dalton’s best season arguably came in 2015, when Cincinnati and Denver were on a collision course for a late-season Monday night game that was destined to determine the top seed in the AFC. Two weeks before that game, however, Dalton broke his thumb while making a tackle after an interception, ending his season.

The Bengals still nearly beat the Broncos with A.J. McCarron, losing in overtime, finishing 12-4, finishing third in a three-year tiebreaker with the Broncos and Patriots, hosting the Steelers in the wild-card round, and squandering what would have been the team’s first playoff win since January 1991 in a driving downpour and a haze of late-game personal fouls.

McCarron, not Dalton, started that playoff game. But Dalton continues to be perceived by some as a guy who went 0-5 in the postseason.

“Andy’s contribution was not a negative ever in the playoffs,” Lewis said. “But he gets blamed for it, even though I should get the blame as the coach.”

Quietly, Dalton has climbed to 44 on the all-time career passing yardage list, and he’s within a thousand yards of passing Hall of Famer Kurt Warner. Although Dalton’s chances to add to that amount may hinge on injury to or gross ineffectiveness of the No. 1 option on the team he eventually joins, Dalton is only 32 and has plenty of productive years left.

As Dalton now embarks on his next phase, the full scope of his career should be considered by whoever pursues him. And it will be important to assess the good and the bad. Although recent history has had more bad than good, there is plenty of good on Dalton’s resume.